Work-Life Balance

My 14-year-old son asked me today about work-life balance. He wanted to know how to achieve it and get better at it. I think he believes I got this figured out, but the truth is that for me, this is an ongoing process. If you don’t balance your job or school priorities and your personal priorities, one of them will be negatively affected, resulting in frustration and possibly burnout.

I told my son that the goal is to learn to prioritize his personal and school tasks. Prioritization and focus are key. Here are a couple of things that have worked for me:

  • Focus on doing the challenging tasks first, even if you don’t want to or enjoy them. Completing the challenging tasks first will give you a sense of accomplishment and will reduce stress.
  • Split larger tasks into smaller, digestible tasks.
  • Focus on one task as much as possible. Avoid multitasking.
  • Allocate a fixed amount of time to an activity (Timeboxing), and don’t cheat. You can use the Pomodoro technique or similar to help you accomplish this.
  • Separate your work and personal environment. You can do this by working in a different place in your home, going to a coffee shop for work, etc.
  • Assess how you spent your day, week, month. This will help you determine how much time you spent doing tasks unrelated to work, school, or personal life. For example, most people spend a lot of time streaming tv shows, movies, social media, etc. And then question why they don’t have enough time to accomplish their goals, large and small.

Work-life balance is not easy. This is why there are so many books and techniques to help you accomplish this. It’s all about time management and self-awareness. It’s easy to spend time on things that are not our priorities, but we do it because it’s easy or entertaining.

Make sure to always leave enough time in your day to talk to friends, family, practice music, read, exercise, or whatever else fulfills you and helps you grow – no matter how busy you think you are.

Remember this: work and school are important, but we do both of those things to have a better life. Prioritize your personal life, always.

Your North Star

It’s a metaphor. Your North Star is your personal mission statement.

In my last post, I mention having a North Star a couple of times, and for me, it’s an excellent way to describe my single long-term goal. There are many goals on my list, but most of them align to the one single long-term goal, my North Star. It gives me something to look forward to and be motivated about; I might feel lost without it.

Having lists and agendas, it’s not something I do, not consistently. I collect notes and a logbook, but having an open schedule and plan is essential. It allows me to adapt and tweak my days, weeks, and months to ensure that the things I do help me progress towards my North Star. My North Star is described in a single sentence, and then I write things down that I might need to do to get closer to that long-term goal. That’s how I keep track of my North Star goal.

Divide and Conquer

Have you heard of the term divide and conquer? in computer science, divide and conquer is an algorithm design paradigm. The idea is to break down a problem into two or smaller problems until these are simple enough to be easily solved.

This is how I think of my personal goals. They aren’t problems, but I like having a significant, long-term goal or plan, my North Star, and then break that into smaller goals, maybe even daily goals that can help me achieve my North Star.

Why do this? It helps by making it easier to accomplish smaller goals, and doing so gives you the motivation to continue doing it. In the past, I had long-term goals that I didn’t achieve because they were too ambitious, and I just never knew where to start. The divide and conquer method, applied to objectives, is an excellent way to get things done.

Why a North Star Goal?

Because it motivates me. Without it, it doesn’t take long before I feel bored or unmotivated. My North Star goal is split into smaller goals, I do this so it’s not overwhelming either. So that’s how I keep things balanced. It works for me.

As time goes by, seeing the progress towards your North Star can give you a reason to keep trying, keep learning, and keep doing. This is very important, at least for me. Otherwise, it’s too easy to become complacent.

You can have more than one North Star, but for me, I can only handle one at a time. Otherwise, I end up distracted and making plodding progress to any of my goals. Therefore, I believe in avoiding multitasking, and instead, I shot to focus on one thing at a time.

One of my North Star goals in the past was to learn English, I tried different methods, and while it wasn’t easy, I made it a reality by focusing on that one big goal first. Another North Star of mine was to find a job as a web developer. Again, I started small, working on small projects on my own, reading books, then learning how computers and the internet works. And finally, getting my first job as a LAN engineer. This job was mostly about computer networking, but it allowed me to work with computers and software, from which I then transitioned into a web developer.

The tried and true suggestions such as keeping it simple, avoiding multitasking, focusing on smaller tasks and goals will continue to be solid advice, in my opinion. But having a North Star goal will give you purpose and direction.

What is your North Star?

Debugging life

A simple idea on how we can log our lives to help us troubleshoot them later

In programming, we use the term debugging to describe the exercise of testing and digging into the code’s details and inner functions to find out the source of an issue. For example, debugging can occur by running the code and reading values in variables as the application runs, review database connections, analyze errors, review requests, and responses to and from an API, etc. Also, you can look at logs with details of application events such as errors to aid the debugging.

How do we use the same idea but instead of debugging software, we debug our lives? I like the idea of it. To try it, I am focusing even more on writing notes about my day, things that come to mind, and ideally whenever there is an event that makes me feel good, sad, angry, peaceful, etc. I want to remember these things, and one way of doing it is by writing them down.

When troubleshooting a software program, you need to reproduce an issue by running through the same steps multiple times to try and catch any information that might help you find the problem. As a software engineer, I can do this because we store information about events such as errors and other information about the application’s state before, during, and after an error occurs. This information is what allows us to debug the software.

In our lives, we cannot replay our day unless we are in the movie Groundhog Day (a great movie, by the way). But if we have information about our day, such as notes, calendar entries, etc. We can use that information to go back and help ourselves remember the events and our feelings on a specific day and time. Having this information might help us remember certain moments better and maybe even find out why we did something or feel a certain way today or in the future. That’s the life debugging part. It will help you replay a day in the past with the help of your notes. These notes might help you remember the why and how of something that happened in the past.

I don’t keep a formal diary or journal, but something that I have been doing for a while is writing notes about things I learn, things I do, and how I feel about them, and I do it in a concise form, just a few words or a sentence. It’s helpful and more effortless than keeping a diary. It’s a logbook. I use a Moleskine daily diary for this. It’s small but includes one page for each day of the year. I find it perfect for logging my day, it’s my logging system, and it works well.

Remembering things is very important, and the older I get, the more I realize that capturing some of the events in your life and how you feel most days is beneficial. Most of us expose ourselves to an incredible amount of distractions, there are many tasks in front of us every day, and unless you try to capture some of them in a permanent form, your mind won’t have the space or capacity to store them. So writing things down helps a lot.

I want to think that at some point, I’ll go back to my logbook and will read it to help me with something in the future. However, this might never happen. But by writing things down in a logbook, I seem to be more in touch with my feelings, and I’m able to recognize the good and bad things that happen many times during a day, every day. It helps me think.

Maybe one day, I’ll be able to upgrade my brain to a version that will include a feature to capture this information reliably without the need to write things down. Maybe it will even have more storage, so it’s easy to save everything in there and without any compression. But in the meantime, writing things down in this logbook is a hack that works for me, and this is how I do my life app work for me. What about you? How do you capture your day and important moments?